Entering preseason camp, UCF receivers coach Sean Beckton knew he had a deep pool of talent among experienced receivers like Rannell Hall, Breshad Perriman, J.J. Worton, Josh Reese and senior transfer Jackie Williams.
But it was the younger cast of receivers who made a positive impression with big catches in Saturday's practice.
Playing with the second team, redshirt freshman Chris Johnson drew cheers from teammates and fans alike when he caught a touchdown pass from Justin Holman under pressure. Lake Highland Prep alum Hayden Jones, Warner Christian alum Taylor Oldham and freshman Tre'Quan Smith all hauled in several catches as well with the mix of quarterbacks coaches rotated onto the practice field.
"The biggest thing that coach [George] O'Leary likes in a freshman is if a kid comes in and looks like he knows what he's doing and plays with a passion and understands what's going on," Beckton said. "Coach O'Leary is not afraid to play a true freshman if they're going out and producing in practice."
One of the more touted freshman, Jordan Akins, is proof of that. With Perriman and Hall still recovering from earlier injuries, Akins practiced with the first team Saturday for the first time during camp.
"We elevated him in today to see what he would do in the 1 position and he stepped up and did his job," Beckton said. "He's gonna help us this year, I'm convinced. Hopefully we'll put together a package because you can't cover a 235-, 240-pound receiver out there that's 6-foot-4. You can't do it with a kid that runs extremely well and has great hands. So we're gonna have to find a place to get him on the field to help us in this offense this year."
• When asked if the reality of the season starting in three weeks was settling in, linebacker Terrance Plummer noted that he wished college football had preseason games like the NFL.
"It's setting in because every year around this time when it's getting close to game time, [NFL] preseason games come on [TV]. So when you see Blake [Bortles] and them play, you say, 'Oh it's almost time for us to play.' It's exciting," Plummer said. "I wish college had preseason, to be honest, so we can play some games because you get different looks when you play different teams."
• During a heavy week of play installation, the Knights haven't competed in full pads since Wednesday but could possibly suit up today.
• UCF was forced to bump up practice to the morning for the third time during camp to avoid expected afternoon rain showers.
• The biggest areas of improvement for the defensive side of the ball has come from the defensive line. The Knights certainly have more depth than last year and coaches have been able to rotate more players on the first team, with freshman Jamiyus Pittman, junior college transfer Lance McDowdell and redshirt senior Rob Sauvao rotating into the lineup.
• UCF football practices are open throughout the remainder of preseason camp, which concludes Aug. 16. Practice starts at 3:20 p.m., but times are subject to change due to inclement weather. UCF asks fans not take photographs or post updates on social media about the workouts.